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The secrets of successful online learning

With another lockdown looming, parents' attention is turning once again to the quality of online teaching. Here's how Salisbury Cathedral School are aceing it.

As another long period of lockdown looms, pupils and parents across the country are facing up to the reality of weeks, possibly months, of home education. Once again, families need to find new routines to balance work, education and chores with much needed downtime for all. How well they are able to achieve this will be hugely influenced by the quality of the remote learning provided by their child/ren’s school.

We spoke to Nick Hawker, Deputy and Academic Head at Salisbury Cathedral School (SCS), to ask what they are doing that is different and how they ensure the home-learning provision delivers above and beyond parental expectation.

How does remote learning differ from traditional class-based teaching?

Most obviously remote learning is an online activity and many parents, quite rightly, are concerned about their children having too much screen time. At SCS, each year group’s remote learning timetable features substantial break times and a mixture of live and pre-recorded lessons. The live lessons require the children to be actively online at their computers, but many pre-recorded lessons can be printed out and completed offline. Specialist subjects, like art and science often encourage the children outside into their gardens to sketch trees, collect materials (leaves, conkers etc), watch wildlife or search for habitats. Our teachers are available online for questions throughout specified lesson times, but our strategy ensures pupils have plenty of opportunity to work offline as well as on. To support this, we’ve sent home a learning pack to every pupil which includes the physical resources required for their academic endeavours.

How do you care for the children of critical workers?

Pupils whose parents are critical workers are welcomed at school where they follow the same remote learning timetable as their peers who are based at home. They are cared for by a dedicated team of staff who oversee their online lessons and also ensure they get out into the school grounds at break times. We do our best to make the days fun whilst keeping them on the same academic path as their classmates.

If children are learning at home, why pay school fees?

An independent education offers pupils small class sizes and specialist academic teaching, both of which are as beneficial to remote learning as to in-person lessons. Some independent schools also offer exceptional expertise in a particular area, for SCS this is music. Music beats at the heart of our school and lockdown has not changed this. Our choristers still sing, both virtually and socially distanced, instrumental lessons have continued as usual with great success and the pupils still enjoy a weekly music lesson from home. Sport, Art and DT are also all still timetabled alongside traditional academic subjects including Maths, English, Science, Languages, History and Geography.

What about pastoral care, how do you provide support to your pupils during lockdown?

That’s a great question and one we have put a lot of thought into as we know that pastoral support will be even more critical than usual over the next few weeks. Firstly, the school will continue to provide sessions with its wonderful ELSA, Emotional Literary Support Assistant, for pupils needing extra one to one support. We are also committed to ensuring there is a continued sense of school community to bolster everyone’s mental health. We do this in two ways. Firstly, the children have regular form times with their whole class online to talk about any practical or emotional issues they face. Secondly, we have two whole school assemblies every week which address pastoral themes and often feature our school chaplain (or another member of Salisbury Cathedral’s clergy) to lead thought and prayer.

Is there anything else about SCS that is different from other prep schools in our area?

The SCS approach to the education, personal development and well-being of every child is shaped by the intrinsic system of Values which is central to our school. This remains true whether our pupils attend school in person or remotely. It is the practical application of our Values that helps us deliver our mission to ‘develop the whole child, preparing them to make a positive influence on the world.’

In the pre-prep we have four key Values: Kindness, Courage, Thinking & Creativity. This expands to eight key Values in the prep school: Community, Creativity, Discovery, Leadership, Resilience, Self-discipline, Teamwork & Thinking. The Values are at the centre of all we do – academic lessons, sport and music – and are recognised with a rewards system at every level of the school. 

One of the positive aspects of the situation we find ourselves in is that remote learning actually lends itself very well to our pupils drawing strength from the Values we hold so dear. We pro-actively encourage the children to see the importance of these to support our collective response to the pandemic. Resilience and self-discipline are obvious examples, but maintaining a sense of community, and being aware of our responsibility to enrich the communities we are part of, is an incredibly important life lesson too. Kindness is always vital, but most especially in troubled times, as are teamwork and thinking. We need to discover new ways of doing things as our usual habits of socialisation are currently so limited, and we need many leaders to provide ideas, energy and motivation.

We have a programme of enrichment projects for the pupils to participate in, each of which targets one or more of the SCS Values. These structured, self-led learning projects are created and overseen by relevant specialist academic staff members. As well as highlighting our Values they also provide opportunity for pupils to develop a range of highly useful skills including self-direction, creativity, research and independence. 

Set in beautiful grounds in the historic Cathedral Close, Salisbury Cathedral School is a thriving independent day and boarding school for around 200 boys and girls aged 3 to 13. To find out more, email Registrar Jojo Orange, orange.j@salisburycathedralschool.com or telephone 01794 340692.

Salisbury Cathedral School, 1 The Close, Salisbury, Wilts SP1 2EQ, tel: 01722 555300, salisburycathedralschool.com

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